Tony Zamora, 1941-2018

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Tony ZamoraTony Zamora, a shareholder of Cuba Media LLC which publishes Cuba Standard, passed away in June, after losing his battle with cancer. Feeling that commerce is a key area of mutual interest in his quest to reconcile Cuba and its exiles, Tony joined with financial entrepreneur Fernando Donayre in 2010 to buy CubaNews, a monthly newsletter founded in the early 1990s, and merged it with online business information service Cuba Standard in 2014. This investment — engagement may be a better word — made it possible for us to produce a steady flow of independent, no-nonsense, hands-on information about the Cuban market, with all its obstacles, risks, opportunities and big potential. Not one to stand still, his life was an unusual journey between taking strong stands and changing viewpoints. From the teenager who joined the fight against Batista (without telling mom), to combatant in the Bay of Pigs invasion and prisoner in Cuba, to counsel of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, to becoming a pioneer for reconciliation in Miami — even his investment in this news venture — his life was a series of risks he took to stand up for deeply held convictions. Tony did not make it to reach the final destination in his quest of reconciliation, but he cleared a path for others to get there. The following tributes by friends and colleagues are testimony to this.

—Johannes Werner, editor Cuba Standard 

Domingo (Chomi) Amuchastegui:

Conocí a Tony hace casi 25 años, justo en un momento trascendental de su vida. Luego de toda una trayectoria de activismo política en contra de la Revolución Cubana desde 1960 (participó en la invasión en Bahía de Cochinos, estuvo preso en Cuba hasta diciembre de 1962, miembro de la junta de directores de la Cuban American National Foundation durante años), Tony culminaba un largo proceso de reflexión sobre toda su experiencia anterior y asumía una aproximación completamente nueva, de comprensión y de conexión constructiva con la experiencia cubana.

Zamora bookNo se trataba de renegar de su pasado, de convertirse en un cambia-casaca de la noche a la mañana o de una apostasía injustificada; fue, repito, un largo proceso de reflexión y de muy diversas vivencias en Estados Unidos y en América Latina que lo llevaron a madurar una interpretación diferente y novedosa. Cualquiera que quiera entender semejante transformación debe leer con cuidado su excelente libro, What I Learned About Cuba By Going to Cuba (Cuba Libre Publications, Miami, 2013), una copia del cual dedicaba “a mi amigo” que conservo con particular respeto y afecto.

Los vituperios y las agresiones verbales no escasearon. Tony se mantuvo incólume; no se arrepintió. Con valor, altura, integridad y decoro, Tony asumió estos ataques; sabía que eran un subproducto inevitable de su entorno y de su cambio de posición. Abogado brillante en la esfera del comercio, no lo era menos en el campo de las relaciones internacionales. Fue un brillante polemista.

Todavía recuerdo sus debates con abogados de Miami en torno a las nacionalizaciones en Cuba, los reclamos de compensación hechos por estos, y cómo Tony argumentaba sobre la caducidad de tales reclamos y argumentaba otras modalidades más prácticas y viables. No menos importante fue su desempeño durante años como inteligente moderador en las conferencias anuales de la Asociación de Estudios de la Economía Cubana (ASCE, siglas en inglés).

Fue un promotor incansable de ideas nuevas y proyectos de divulgación para entender mejor a Cuba. Ejemplos de ello fueron las publicaciones periódicas CubaNews y Cuba Standard. En todas estas actividades se profundizó nuestra amistad y nuestras convergencias.

Sus viajes a Cuba se hicieron frecuentes. Allí revalorizó muchas cosas de su pasado y de su actualidad, en primer lugar temas, documentos y archivos relacionados con el derecho, la legislación cubana y la propiedad. No menos importante fue para él ganar nuevos amigos y perspectivas allí, incluyendo explorar uno de sus grandes amores (además de su esposa Nelly, y sus hijos): el mar, los fondos marinos, la pesca submarina, desde las aguas del Chateau Miramar y Varadero hasta los maravillosos fondos de María La Gorda y otros extraordinarios lugares de las costas cubanas, tema de conversación obligado con Tony.

Nuestro último encuentro — además de las conversaciones telefónicas — versó especialmente sobre los sombríos designios que se movían alrededor de Trump en materia de sus nuevos diseños de la política hacia Cuba. Esto le preocupaba seriamente, y lo encontraba como algo bien incongruente comparado con los  precedentes proyectos de Trump relacionados con acometer grandes inversiones en Cuba apenas unos años atrás.

Adiós Tony; no serás olvidado…!

Former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui has lived in Miami since 1994. He is a columnist for Cuba Standard, writing on Cuba’s internal politics, economic reform, and South Florida’s Cuban community.


Annie Betancourt:

It is with deep sorrow that I write these lines in memory of a good friend, Tony Zamora.

Tony and I met 60 years ago; we both were on the swimming team at Casino Español in Havana and had similar interests in water sports. Our strength at the pool was backstroke, he taught me how to perfect my style and how to do the turn to gain momentum. In addition to swimming, scuba diving was Tony’s passion. Yes, we had similar interests in water sports, and I got in trouble for sneaking out of my house an early morning, to join on a scuba diving adventure on the reefs behind my house. All I had to do was cross a vacant lot and dive in the ocean. Little did I know that my dad saw me sneaking out and joining some guys on a boat.  That escapade cost me a couple of weekends of punishment. Tony introduced me to the beauty of the coral reefs and the secrets of marine life. The ocean was right there, it was my own backyard. I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist; however, life took me in a different direction.

Years went by, and 40 years later I ran into my friend Tony. Now he was an attorney affiliated to a distinguished law firm in Miami. Once again, it seems we shared the same interest in politics, and more importantly, our passion for our country, Cuba, never faded. On several trips to the island, we coincided and shared a meal. Here in Miami we attended conferences and were on panel presentations regarding the issue of improving relations with Cubans in the island.  He wrote a book where he described his emotional journey and how his thinking evolved.  Tony served with my late husband Rolando Rodríguez in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961. At FIU Law School he was an adjunct professor where he gained the respect of students and faculty.

Words are not enough to describe this gifted and kind friend who had a clear mind to persuade opponents. Tony is gone, but his spirit lives on.

To Nelly and the children, my sincere condolences. May Tony rest in peace.

Annie Betancourt is a former administrator at Miami-Dade Community College, Florida state representative for Miami from 1994-2002, and a Congressional candidate in 2002


Amaury Cruz:

Much has been said or will be said about Tony Zamora, a most decent human being who demonstrated personal integrity, compassion, and indefatigable concern for ideals of progress and social justice.  I want to focus on a simple but revolutionary concept encapsulated in the title of his book, What I Learned About Cuba by Going to Cuba.

Photo: Amaury Cruz

Photo: Amaury Cruz

It is self-evident that one learns much about the world and its people by traveling.  Traveling also leads to self-knowledge. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

In Tony’s case, traveling to Cuba helped in both ways. Cuba, as depicted in our mainstream media, is a tropical Stalinist hell. Tony saw that Cuba was neither a hell nor a paradise, and he expressed that through intelligent, nuanced conversations and writings that reflected not only the experiences of his travels, but a whole life of dedication to his country of birth.  Tony found his true self in Cuba and continued learning about his fatherland, leading to his conversion to progressive activist.

His knowledge of Cuba and its people was vast. I first traveled with him to Cuba to attend a seminar on international commercial arbitration. I also traveled with him to attend a meeting of La Nación y la Emigración. When possible, we visited various places and met with friends, Cuban officials, lawyers, and judges.  He seemed to know everyone and everything. He could have been a travel guide. Walking the streets of Old Havana, he could give you the history of the cathedral, explain the process carried out by Eusebio Leal to renovate portions of the Casco Central, or explain the history of the changing of the guard at the Castillo del Morro. He was as much at home there as he was in the States, where he shined as a lawyer, an intellectual and a good friend.

The concept embodied in the title of his book was also revolutionary because Tony felt too many people, particularly in the right-wing media, were completely ignorant of what Cuba is like. He believed that everyone should travel to the country and see personally instead of hearing lies and distortions. Go there and then you can talk about it. Simple, but revolutionary. That’s one reason why he and I, along with other activists, constituted the Foundation for the Normalization of U.S-Cuba Relations, a work in progress that is more important than ever. Thanks in part to Tony, some advances were made. We now have to continue his fight against prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

Amaury Cruz is not only a partner in Miami Beach law firm Amaury Cruz and Associates, specializing in patents, trademarks, copyrights, and Internet law, but also a passionate scuba diver and photographer


Rodolfo Dávalos, Sr.:

Le conocí a mediados de los 90, en un evento internacional sobre comercio exterior e inversión extranjera en La Habana. Desde el auditorio, entre los asistentes, pidió la palabra para intervenir en el debate sobre la conferencia impartida relativa al Bloqueo. Se auto-presentó, dijo ser un cubano-americano hijo del Profesor Zamora de Derecho constitucional, y habló, plausible, claro, convincente. El Bloqueo era un engendro jurídicamente hablando, no importaban las discusiones sobre su naturaleza jurídica: ni Embargo, ni Bloqueo, y le llamó chistosamente “Blobargo”, pero acentuó sus consecuencias como política fracasada y como el daño que producía al pueblo no llevaba identificación, y lo mismo perjudicaba a unos que a otros, sin distinción.

Se convirtió en un asiduo asistente a las Escuelas de Verano de Derecho Internacional y los eventos de comercio e inversiones. Sus intervenciones fueron siempre ilustrativas y respetuosas sin dejar de precisar sus puntos de vista, coincidentes o no.

Una vez en Miami, alguien le preguntó a mi presencia las razones y causas de su cambio de actitud hacia Cuba: de la Brigada 2506, a las Conferencias la Nación y la Emigración, y los eventos jurídicos en La Habana, le escuché contestar sin vacilaciones: el problema está que en Miami hay cubanos que no se dan cuenta que en Cuba hubo una Revolución (yo dije: hay) y ya nada nunca será igual. Me di cuenta que había admitido esa realidad, las revoluciones cambian el país, la sociedad, podrán perdurar o, en su caso, durar menos tiempo, pero dejan su huella indeleble para siempre. Y entonces a Cuba hay que entenderla como es, con su Revolución y no pretender volverla al pasado, que ya no existe.

Con orígenes y formación diferentes, y no siendo amigos de la niñez o la juventud, trabamos una sincera amistad. Nos unía el amor a Cuba, el deseo y la voluntad de tender un puente de entendimiento entre los cubanos de aquí o de allá, separados, muchos de ellos sin voluntad propia,  por  una estrecha franja de mar tan azul como las tres listas  de nuestra bandera, cuando somos hermanos, hijos, padres, primos, tíos, amigo o vecinos, y, más aún, siempre que haya amor y fidelidad a la Patria, somos compatriotas. A ese esfuerzo dedicó los últimos años de su vida. Réquiem por Tony.

Rodolfo Dávalos is a Cuban lawyer, professor at the School of Law at the University of Havana, prolific author, president of the Sociedad Cubana de Derecho Mercantil, president of the Cuban Court of International Arbitration, and an arbiter at the International Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, as well as at the Civil and Commercial Arbitration Court in Madrid 


Fernando Donayre:

Back in 2008, after Barack Obama had won the U.S. presidential election and there was a renewed sense that U.S.-Cuban relations could improve, I began to explore investment opportunities in Cuba.  I was introduced to Tony Zamora, who was rightfully described to me as the best-informed person regarding the business potential available in Cuba.  Tony quickly became my mentor on all things regarding Cuba.  He was intelligent, informed, well connected and always had an enduring sense of optimism that eventually the U.S. embargo on Cuba would be lifted and the two countries would be able to resume a more normal business relationship, to the great benefit of the people in both countries.

Tony and I eventually became business partners, purchasing the CubaNews publication, which was merged into the current Cuba Standard.  Tony taught me a lot about Cuba, but even more about life.  Although he was a Bay of Pigs veteran with all the vitriol that entails, Tony eventually realized that he had to live his life going forward, and sometimes that means changing how you view old adversaries and move forward in a constructive way.

Tony never stopped learning and adapting. What a great lesson to be taught!  Thank you my friend. I am sorry that Tony will not be with us when the embargo is eventually lifted, but no one will be happier than Tony Zamora when Americans and Cubans are once again embracing and working together toward a better communal relationship.

A native of Peru, Fernando Donayre is the founder of INCA Investments, a Latin American investment management firm based in Miami with $725 million in assets under management. Before starting his own business in 2004, he managed the Latin American portfolios of Zephyr Management, and was the Director of Research at GlobalvestManagement


Charles Dusseau:

Mark Twain said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.”  Tony was one of those rare souls who exuded both physical and moral courage.

His demonstrated physical bravery with the Bay of Pigs invasion and its aftermath was distant history when I met him.  I saw in Tony the moral courage to change course when the situation demanded it and stand up not only to his enemies, but also to his friends.  Tony supported people and causes that were not always mainstream but were, in his mind, the right ones to support. He was confident enough in his own beliefs that he could move from the comfortable middle when necessary and change his opinion when the facts indicated that he should.  He demonstrated reason, calm, and courage in circumstances and with people who were not reasonable in any sense of the word. In his effort to bring warring communities together, he dreamed no small dreams. Despite setbacks along the way, he had the courage to persevere knowing that history would be on his side.

Our community shares greatly in the deep personal loss suffered by Tony’s family with his passing.

Charles M. Dusseau is a partner with real estate investment company Core Commercial and vice chairman of Eastern National Bank in Miami, worked for a decade with Chase Manhattan Bank, and was president of the Americas Group, a Miami based, Latin America-focused merchant banking and business consulting firm. He is a former Miami-Dade County commissioner and Secretary of Commerce for the State of Florida


Ron Klein:

When I ran for Congress from South Florida in 2006, I met Tony Zamora. My first impression of this man was that he was a smart, well-spoken person who had a different perspective of what was working and not working in our U.S. policy toward the interest of the Cuban people. He wasn’t proposing radical policy differences, but rather new ways to think about outreach directly to the people and their institutions.

What was most interesting was his background and personal history.  He was part of the failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion. Every person I had previously met who was directly or indirectly involved was a vehement defender of the boycott and demanded, rightfully so, that their homeland be returned to its people. Tony had carried that philosophy and been a leader in that movement for most of his adult life. He stood arm in arm with his band of brothers as they sought and received the U.S. government’s hard line and consistent policy toward Cuba.

Things were changing around the world in other countries, and the U.S. view toward those countries changed as Communism showed its failures, but the U.S. policy toward Cuba remained the same. Tony was rethinking his views about what would be the best way to change things on the ground in Cuba and how our U.S. government could take a role. He started a new organization dedicated to that cause, and unpopular as he was in parts of the community, he persevered with intellect, respect for human dignity, and an understanding of the complications of the process.

He met with Cuban lawyers in Cuba, building bridges and foundations for future relationships.  He traveled to Cuba many times at great risk and met with a variety of people that helped shape his thinking and guided him toward new ideas about the future. He was a source of a different set of views of what would be best for the Cuban people. All the while, he conducted himself with great grace and compassion toward his Cuban community and their goals and needs.

His greatest tribute is that he helped move the ball forward in trying to help the Cuban people have a better life for themselves. He did not live to see the day when there will be a free Cuba, but he made great contributions to help accelerate when that day will arrive. He leaves behind a wonderful family and a grateful community.

Ron Klein — a former Florida state representative and senator, and a member of Congress from 2007-2011 — now is a partner with law firm Holland & Knight 


John McAuliff:

Tony Zamora had the courage to follow his convictions, whichever side of the ideological divide they took him — and to revise them as he learned and grew.

I first encountered Tony at a conference in New Jersey organized by Lissa  Weinman. For the first time, someone gave me a historical template that made sense of the disproportionate impact of his former allies in Miami, their transformation from being instruments of U.S. policy to obtaining unhealthy sway over it.

Tony also introduced me in Havana and Miami to the living bond between Cubans despite the pain and distrust of decades of separation that gives hope for the future.

I doubt President Obama or current generations of engaged businesspeople recognize it, but their path was opened by Tony and others of his generation, at great personal risk and cost.

His experience, wisdom and courage will be missed.

As founder and executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, John McAuliff has played a prominent role in normalization between the United States and Vietnam. In the 1990s, he expanded his work to Cuba, and is now largely focused on reconciliation between the United States and Cuba


José Manuel Pallí:

My life has been blessed with some good friends and quite a few great teachers. Antonio “Tony” Zamora was both things to me.

I met Tony Zamora late in life, when I was closing on my fifties. By then, he was regarded as a king-maker of sorts in Miami city politics, but he was reinventing himself into a game changer with regard to American policy towards Cuba, a policy he had help craft as one of the founding members of the Cuban American National Foundation. Tony had been a frogman in the U.S. Navy, a prisoner in Cuba, captured as part of the 2506 Brigade, a big-time lawyer, when he decided to leave his comfort level behind in order to try to shake up Cuban-America’s approach to Cuba.

He was aware that such a new way to address the island would entail his losing old friendships, his taking immeasurable professional risks, and all this with little if any assurances of success, Cuba being the type of closed society it was and still is. But he never hesitated. Having tried the longstanding (and unrewarding) hostility approach still sponsored by hotheads in our community, he opted for engagement, focusing on his professional field, interacting with our fellow lawyers in Cuba.

Since our own American society is no less convoluted than Cuba, specially these days, his path was ever unstable. From Clinton, to Bush II, to Obama, now Trump, the ups and downs were permanent. But permanent too, and unyielding, was his conviction to put Cuba and its future first and above any other consideration.  In 2002, the U.S.-Cuba Legal Forum recognized Tony Zamora with a plaque with the following inscription: “Para Tony Zamora: un cubano de Ley”. And that is the best way to define him.  He will be missed dearly.

Born and raised in Cuba and educated in Argentina, José Manuel Pallí is a real estate lawyer in Miami

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